The New England Patriots might or might not make a run at a perfect season. They certainly have the defense to do it. And they took another step in that direction when they upped their record to 6-0 by beating the New York Giants, 35-14, Thursday night in Foxborough, Mass.

But that margin of victory was deceiving. The Giants, 17-point underdogs coming in, were tied at 14 in the second quarter and were within 21-14 in the fourth quarter. They made the game competitive for most of the night even with a rookie, Daniel Jones, at quarterback and with tailback Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Sterling Shepard sidelined.

The Giants committed four turnovers and allowed the Patriots to score one touchdown on special teams and another while on defense. So this Patriots’ win was not as convincing as the final score suggested. Issues with their offense and with their new kicker persisted.

AD
AD

“We grinded it out pretty good,” quarterback Tom Brady told Fox after the game. “We lost a lot of guys out there. We got kind of stuck in one grouping the whole second half. But, you know, to win 35-14 is pretty good. We’ll move on to the next game.”

The Patriots are not willing to engage in talk about their prospects for a 16-0 regular season and the first 19-0 season in league history.

“No one has done anything after six wins,” wide receiver Julian Edelman said on the NFL Network’s postgame set Thursday. “It’s way too early.”

But that doesn’t mean the rest of the football-watching world can’t begin to contemplate the possibilities. It needn’t be said that the Patriots are Super Bowl contenders. That is an annual given at this point, with the six Lombardi Trophies they’ve collected over two absurdly prosperous decades with Bill Belichick as their coach and Brady as their quarterback. Super Bowl favorites? Ho-hum. Nothing new there.

AD
AD

The issue worth considering is whether this New England team might be capable of the one achievement that has eluded Belichick and Brady during the dynastic run: perfection. The Patriots came oh-so-close to securing the NFL’s first 19-0 season in 2007, taking an 18-0 record into the Super Bowl before that memorable upset by the Eli Manning-led Giants.

These Patriots have avoided the sort of early-season hardships that arose even in some of their Super Bowl seasons. So the possibility of a run at an unblemished season certainly exists, given Belichick’s ability to make certain that his teams improve as a season progresses and his propensity to keep his foot on the gas pedal even if a playoff spot and seeding are already secured late in a regular season.

Is this Patriots team good enough? It’s an intriguing question. If it does happen, it would not be a reprise of 2007. Those Patriots were a historically great offensive team, with Brady throwing 50 touchdowns passes and Randy Moss catching 23 of them.

AD
AD

These Patriots are different. Brady remains highly productive at age 42. But he’s not the Brady of 2007, and he’s probably not quite even the Brady of his league MVP season two years ago at 40. There are questions about the supporting cast around him on offense with tight end Rob Gronkowski retired and wide receiver Antonio Brown gone. There are questions about the offensive line and the running game.

No, this is a defense-first Patriots team, in some ways a throwback to the early days of the dynasty before it became clear that Brady was an all-time great on his way to being the all-time great.

This is not just a good or a very good Patriots defense. This could be a great Patriots defense. It was back to doing its thing Thursday night. The Patriots intercepted Jones three times. Jones did manage to throw the first touchdown pass allowed this season by the Patriots with a 64-yard strike to wide receiver Golden Tate in the first half.

AD
AD

But the New England defense made the night’s biggest play, as linebacker Kyle Van Noy returned a fourth-quarter fumble for a touchdown to stretch the lead to 28-14. The Patriots improved to 12-0 at home against rookie quarterbacks during Belichick’s coaching tenure.

The onus, then, is on the offense to do its part. The returns — again — were mixed Thursday night. The Giants’ defense scored a second-quarter touchdown on a return of a fumble by Brady on a sack. Brady also threw a first-half interception and was sacked three times on the night as the Patriots struggled to get moving on offense.

The final numbers were deceptively good. Brady threw for 334 yards and moved past Peyton Manning for second place on the league’s career passing yards list. He also had two rushing touchdowns on one-yard quarterback sneaks. Edelman had nine catches for 113 yards.

AD
AD

But wide receiver Josh Gordon suffered a knee injury on the Giants’ defensive touchdown. That’s a potential problem. If Gordon can’t be a major contributor, Brady’s pass-catching options would be limited. Gronkowski said on Fox before the game that he’s not ruling out a return. The Patriots might need him.

The addition of Brown on the eve of the regular season seemed to give Brady an abundance of skilled pass-catchers. But Brown lasted only one game in a Patriots uniform and was released amid an NFL investigation into allegations by two women of rape, sexual assault and intimidation. He remains unsigned as a free agent.

Some of this is nitpicking. The Patriots, while ranked only 11th in the league in total offense entering the game, were third in scoring offense. But when the topic is a prospective run at 19-0, the bar is high.

AD
AD

There also is the matter of the kicking game. Veteran Mike Nugent missed a 40-yard field goal attempt Thursday night. He missed an extra point during Sunday’s triumph over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field after being signed to replace Stephen Gostkowski, sidelined by a season-ending hip injury.

There are tougher games to come. The schedule includes a trying stretch in November and early December with consecutive games against the Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs.

They are the Patriots, after all, and chances are that they’ll find a way to get better on offense. They’ll have to, if they’re going to have a chance to be memorably great.

AD

4th Quarter

Second rushing TD for Brady: Brady, not exactly known for his exploits as a runner, scored his second rushing touchdown of the night, both of them on one-yard quarterback sneaks. The touchdown was set up by a diving catch by wide receiver Edelman for a 36-yard gain to the 3-yard line. Edelman has nine catches for 113 yards. (Patriots 35, Giants 14 with 3:49 left in the 4th quarter)

AD

Defensive TD for Pats: The Patriots finally have a little fourth-quarter breathing room, thanks to a touchdown by their defense. Kyle Van Noy picked up the ball and ran 22 yards for the score after fellow linebacker Jamie Collins forced a fumble by Giants running back Jon Hillman on a screen pass. Van Noy dove for the end zone and touched the football to the pylon, and was awarded the touchdown via an instant replay review after originally being ruled out of bounds. It was the fourth takeaway of the game by the New England defense, which has also intercepted three passes by Jones. The Patriots now have a defensive touchdown and a special-teams touchdown, via a blocked punt, in this game. (Patriots 28, Giants 14 with 8:33 left in the 4th quarter)

AD

No confidence in Nugent: Patriots Coach Bill Belichick appears to have lost confidence in his new kicker, Nugent. Belichick passed on a 50-yard field goal attempt with the wind by Nugent, who missed in the third quarter from 40 yards into the wind, in favor of a fourth-and-five try. Brady threw an incompletion and the Giants took over on downs with their second fourth-down stop of the game. They’re still within a touchdown. (Patriots 21, Giants 14 with 9:28 left in the 4th quarter)

3rd Quarter

AD

Nugent misses FG: Nugent isn’t exactly inspiring confidence since being signed by the Patriots to take over for Stephen Gostkowski, who’s out with a season-ending hip injury. Nugent missed a 40-yard field goal when the ball struck the left upright and bounced away. Earlier on the drive, Belichick passed up a 47-yard field goal attempt in favor of a fourth-and-seven try that the Patriots converted via a defensive holding penalty called on the Giants. Nugent was signed after a workout but also missed an extra point Sunday against the Redskins. (Patriots 21, Giants 14 with 2:47 left in the 3rd quarter)

Jones throws third pick: The Giants were moving the ball pretty well on their opening drive of the second half but then rookie quarterback Daniel Jones threw his third interception of the night. His pass to the sideline intended for tight end Rhett Ellison ended up in the hands of Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore. (Patriots 21, Giants 14 with 12:12 left in the 3rd quarter)

Halftime in Foxborough: The Giants put the two biggest dents in the Patriots’ dynasty with a pair of Super Bowl victories, orchestrated by QB Eli Manning and coached by Tom Coughlin, over the Patriots, one of which denied New England a 19-0 season in 2007. The stakes aren’t as high on this night but the Giants, 17-point underdogs coming in, managed to make things surprisingly interesting and competitive in the first half. They got two quick touchdowns in the second quarter, the first on a 64-yard touchdown pass from Jones to wide receiver Tate and the second on a defensive scoop-and-score when Brady fumbled on a sack, to erase a 14-0 deficit and tie the game. The Patriots restored some order with a one-yard touchdown by Brady on a quarterback sneak 36 seconds before halftime. Earlier, the Patriots scored on a blocked punt and a one-yard run by running back Brandon Bolden following an interception of Jones. The New England offense again has had its first-half issues. The offensive line struggled to protect Brady, who threw an interception in addition to his lost fumble. Wide receiver Josh Gordon appeared to hurt his left knee on the Giants’ defensive touchdown. Jones, the rookie quarterback facing the Patriots for the first time since replacing Manning as the Giants’ starter, threw two first-half interceptions but also had the first touchdown pass of the season allowed by the Patriots. (Patriots 21, Giants 14 at halftime)

2nd Quarter

Pats retake lead: The Patriots restored some order just before halftime with a one-yard touchdown by Brady on a quarterback sneak. That came just after an apparent 12-yard touchdown pass from Brady to running back James White was nullified by a replay review that determined White was down by contact inside the 1-yard line. Brady took a shotgun snap and tipped the ball forward to White on what amounted to a sweep. After the replay ruling, the Patriots took a timeout to avoid a 10-second clock runoff. The Giants had gotten back into the game with two quick touchdowns but it appears the Patriots will have the lead at the half. (Patriots 21, Giants 14 with 36 seconds left in the 2nd quarter)

Giants get even on Brady fumble, Gordon hurt: The Giants defense made a big play to tie the game. Lorenzo Carter forced a fumble by Brady on a sack, and fellow linebacker Markus Golden scooped up the loose football and raced 42 yards for a touchdown. The bad play was made even worse for the Patriots because Gordon suffered an apparent injury to his left knee and was taken to the medical tent on the Patriots’ sideline. (Giants 14, Patriots 14 with 4:38 left in the 2nd quarter)

Jones-to-Tate cuts Pats’ lead in half: The New England defense had made Jones look bad for most of the first half. But Jones got his revenge with the first touchdown pass of the season against the Patriots. Jones made an on-target throw to Tate for a 64-yard touchdown, victimizing Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones. (Patriots 14, Giants 7 with 6:05 left in the 2nd quarter)

Pats cash in on second interception of Jones: The Patriots got a touchdown on offense, cashing in on the second interception of the night thrown by Jones. The interception by Duron Harmon set up the New England offense at the Giants 20-yard line. After a mishandled snap leading to an incompletion and then a false-start penalty, Brady connected with rookie wide receiver Jakobi Meyers for a 23-yard gain to the 2-yard line. Bolden scored on a third-down carry from the 1. (Patriots 14, Giants 0 with 7:11 left in the 2nd quarter)

Another slow start for Pats offense: The New England defense has done the heavy lifting this season while the offense has been working its way through some inconsistencies. That’s the case again in this game. The Patriots have the lead thanks to a first-quarter touchdown on a blocked punt. But they’ve had five possessions on offense without scoring a point. They’ve punted three times, failed on a fourth-down try to had a turnover on an interception thrown by Brady. It nearly was two turnovers but the Giants lost a first-quarter instant replay challenge seeking to have a catch and fumble ruled on a near-grab by Julian Edelman, with the on-field ruling of an incompletion being allowed to stand. (Patriots 7, Giants 0 with 10:46 left in the 2nd quarter)

Blocked punt for TD for Pats: The Patriots have been unable to get their offense moving so far but scored a touchdown on a blocked punt. Bolden was given credit for the block, on which the ball actually hit the back of the helmet of the Giants’ Nate Stupar, who was being pushed backward by Bolden. The deflected football landed in the hands of the Patriots’ Chase Winovich, who scored the touchdown. (Patriots 7, Giants 0 with 1:41 left in the 1st quarter)

Jones, Brady trade interceptions: Jones threw an interception, but Tom Brady returned the favor on the very next play. Jones’s tipped-ball pass was grabbed on the carom by Patriots defensive end John Simon, the 12th interception of the season for a New England defense that’s yet to allow a touchdown pass. The Patriots took possession at the New York 43-yard line and tried immediately for a big play down the field. But Brady’s pass was behind Edelman and intercepted by Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins. It’s another slow start for the New England offense, which has had a failed fourth-down attempt, a punt and a turnover in three possessions to start this game. The Patriots managed only 12 first-half points Sunday against the Redskins before a 21-point second half. (Giants 0, Patriots 0 with 6:47 left in the 1st quarter)

Brady passes P. Manning: Brady moved past Peyton Manning for the No. 2 spot on the NFL’s career passing yards list during the Patriots’ opening drive. A 19-yard completion to Sony Michel on his first pass of the night gave him 71,942 passing yards at that point, two more than the retired Manning. Drew Brees is No. 1 on the list with 74,845 yards.

Giants get fourth-down stop: The Patriots ran the ball well in the second half of Sunday’s lopsided victory over the Redskins at FedEx Field, and they came out running the ball well on their opening possession of this game against the Giants. But their drive was halted at the New York 19-yard line when the Giants defense stopped tailback Sony Michel for no gain on third-and-one and fourth-and-one carries. (Giants 0, Patriots 0 with 11:27 left in the 1st quarter)

Gronk ‘always … open’ to NFL return: Rob Gronkowski, who retired from the Patriots during the offseason, said on the Fox pregame show that he’s not ruling out a return to football.

“It’s always gonna be open in my mind,” said Gronkowski, now an analyst for the network after a nine-year career as a tight end for New England.

Gronkowski is only 30 and was one of the game’s most productive pass-catchers. But he stepped away from the sport because of a lengthy list of injuries.

There was speculation from the moment that Gronkowski announced his retirement in March that he might return to the Patriots as soon as this season. Their offense has been inconsistent so far this season, and Brady could use another playmaker. The Patriots, with the league’s top-ranked defense, are a Super Bowl favorite again, and a return by Gronkowski would bolster their chances of securing a seventh Lombardi Trophy with Brady as their quarterback and Bill Belichick as their coach.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the NFL Network earlier Thursday “there is hope for us still” that Gronkowski could return, in part because Gronkowski hasn’t filed his retirement paperwork with the NFL. And Gronkowski isn’t ruling it out.

“I’ll always keep it open,” Kraft said.

Postgame reading

It needn’t be said that the New England Patriots are Super Bowl contenders. That is an annual given at this point, with the six Lombardi Trophies they’ve collected over two absurdly prosperous decades with Bill Belichick as their coach and Tom Brady as their quarterback. Super Bowl favorites? Ho-hum. Nothing new there.

But as the Patriots ready for a Thursday night meeting in Foxborough, Mass., with their old nemesis, the New York Giants, the issue worth considering is whether this New England team might be capable of the one achievement that has eluded Belichick and Brady during the dynastic run: perfection. The Patriots came oh-so-close to securing the first 19-0 season in NFL history in 2007, taking an 18-0 record into the Super Bowl before that memorable upset by the Eli Manning-led Giants.

These Patriots have begun 5-0, avoiding the sort of early-season hardships that arose even in some of their Super Bowl seasons. So the possibility of a run at an unblemished season certainly exists, given Belichick’s ability to make certain that his teams improve as a season progresses and his propensity to keep his foot on the gas pedal even if a playoff spot and seeding are already secured late in a regular season.

Is this Patriots team good enough? It’s an intriguing question. If it does happen, it would not be a reprise of 2007. Those Patriots were a historically great offensive team, with Brady throwing 50 touchdowns passes and Randy Moss catching 23 of them.

These Patriots are different. Brady remains highly productive at age 42. But he’s not the Brady of 2007, and he’s probably not quite even the Brady of his league MVP season two years ago at 40. There are questions about the supporting cast around him on offense with tight end Rob Gronkowski retired and wide receiver Antonio Brown gone after just one game with the team. There are questions about the offensive line and the running game.

No, this is a defense-first Patriots team, in some ways a throwback to the early days of the dynasty before it became clear that Brady was an all-time great on his way to being the all-time great.

“We obviously have a great strength in our defense,” Brady said after Sunday’s 33-7 triumph over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. “They turn the ball over. They just make it so hard to complete every pass. We realized that in training camp. It’s just amazing to watch those guys play right now. So we’ve just got to keep it going, and hopefully we can pick it up on offense.”

This is not just a good or a very good Patriots defense. This could be a great Patriots defense. New England is ranked first in the NFL in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense; the Patriots are third against the run. They have surrendered 34 points, the fifth-lowest total by any team through five games of a season since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

The Patriots have 11 interceptions and 24 sacks in five games. They’re yet to allow a passing touchdown.

“It’s a really good group that communicates well and plays with great effort and good awareness,” Belichick said after the win over the Redskins. “We’re very fortunate that we have a lot of good players.”

The onus, then, will be on the offense to do its part. The Patriots struggled on offense in a first half against the Redskins in which Brady was sacked three times. That came after the offense was similarly sluggish a week earlier during a victory at Buffalo in which Brady had a passer rating of 45.9. But things clicked during a 21-point second half against the Redskins in which the Patriots recommitted to the running game, slowing down the pass rush and benefiting Brady.

The addition of Brown on the eve of the regular season seemed to give Brady an abundance of pass-catchers and the type of playmaker at wide receiver Brady hadn’t had since Moss. But Brown lasted only one game in a Patriots uniform and was released amid an NFL investigation into allegations by two women of rape, sexual assault and intimidation. He remains unsigned as a free agent.

Brady still has receiving options, with Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon at wideout and James White coming out of the backfield. But the offense is not what it might have been.

Some of this is nitpicking. The Patriots, while being ranked only 11th in the league in total offense, are third in scoring offense. But when the topic is a prospective run at 19-0, the bar is high.

“I mean, there’s a standard,” Edelman said in the postgame locker room at FedEx Field. “People expect you to go out and work hard, practice hard, play hard. And if you do those things, good things happen. That’s something we try to emphasize here.”

There also is the matter of the kicking game. Veteran Mike Nugent missed an extra point Sunday after being signed to replace Stephen Gostkowski, sidelined by a season-ending hip injury. Belichick said after the Redskins game that he had no immediate plans to reevaluate the choice of Nugent.

“We just need to do things better,” he said.

The schedule includes a trying stretch in November and early December with consecutive games against the Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. For now, the focus is the Giants and rookie starter Daniel Jones, who replaced Manning and has resembled a star-in-the-making by winning two of his three starts.

But tailback Saquon Barkley probably is not quite ready to return from a high ankle sprain and the Giants likely are not formidable enough to hand the Patriots their first loss of the season. The biggest issue Thursday for the Patriots could be dealing with the quick turnaround.

“I think that’s something we’re all prepared for and talked about. … It’s quick,” Brady said Sunday. “So [you] use the time, every bit from now till game time, to get ready physically and mentally and, you know, go play a good football team and try to get to 6-0.”

Read more NFL coverage: